Out of the gate, the Cats looked a little sluggish as they quickly fell behind 10-2. However, after the first five minutes of the game it was all Cats the rest of the half.
Keldon Johnson was dominant in the first half as he started the game 5-5 from three-point land. The Cats used a suffocating defensive performance to build up a 30-19 lead with just under 8 minutes left in the half.
The shooting eventually slowed down for the Cats, but the defense didn’t as they only gave up 8 points the rest of the half.
Kentucky ended the half on a high note with back to back buckets by Reid Travis, and with 5 seconds remaining Ashton Hagans hit Tyler Herro who knocked down a three at the buzzer to send the Cats into the break with a 41-27 lead.
After halftime, Kentucky came out and continued to perform well on the defensive end of the floor and put together what could be their best overall performance of the season to this point.
Utah hit a hot streak where it seemed like they couldn’t miss despite the solid defense as they cut the lead to 10 with 11:52 remaining.
Kentucky quickly went on a 13-0 run to make their lead 70-47 with 7 minutes to play. Kentucky cruised from that point and were able to come away with a comfortable 88-61 win.
Here are a few thoughts on their dominant performance.
Cal has said that this team is probably his best shooting team since he has been at UK. Unfortunately to this point, they hadn’t shown they can shoot.
That wasn’t the case in this one.
The Cats shot 12/21 (57%) from behind the arc for their first very good shooting performance of the season. Hopefully, this is the start of us seeing the skillful shooting that this team is capable of.
Keldon Johnson was fantastic
With the exception of Reid Travis, Johnson has been our most consistent player this year bringing it every night.
Tonight wasn’t any different as he finished with 24 points, 2 rebounds, and a steal. He was also 6 of 7 from three-point land and made big plays on the defensive end as well.
If Keldon Johnson continues to be the best player on the floor for the Cats, then this team is going to have an excellent chance of making a deep run in March.
Jemarl Baker finally had his moment
All last year, we continuously heard that Baker was a fantastic shooter leaving fans eager to know just what he can do. Unfortunately, a nagging knee injury kept him out all last season and the first part of this year.
He made his debut last week against Seton Hall and in this one he came in and immediately went 2/2 from three and will most likely be the talk of the fanbase this week.
However, we didn’t get to see much of Baker because Cal said after the game that he actually forgot he was even on the bench. I would expect we will see a lot more Jemarl Baker going forward.
The Cats took care of the ball
At times this season, turnovers have been an issue for the Wildcats, and in some cases they would have double digit turnovers before they even got to halftime. It is hard to win consistently and convincingly with that many mistakes.
Even against Seton Hall, the Cats coughed it up 15 times which was a big factor in the one point loss.
In this one, they took care of the rock as they only turned it over 6 times. That is encouraging and hopefully becomes a trend for this team going forward.
Next week the Cats will have a chance to get a high-quality win against North Carolina, which they desperately need for resume purposes. That game will tip at 5:15 on CBS.
Now, here are the postgame notes, courtesy of UK Athletics:
Team Records and Series Notes
- Kentucky is 8-2 on the season and Utah is now 4-5.
- Kentucky leads the series 10-2 and has won eight in a row.
- Next for Kentucky: The Wildcats continue their stretch of five straight Saturday games, taking on North Carolina on Dec. 22 in Chicago’s United Center in the CBS Sports Classic. Game time is 5:15 p.m. ET and it will be televised, of course, by CBS.
- Kentucky’s 1993 Final Four team was honored at halftime.
In the First Half
- Kentucky started Ashton Hagans, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, Reid Travis and PJ Washington for the third time this season. This lineup is now 1-2.
- Kentucky got the first basket but Utah’s Booth Gach countered with eight straight points and another Utes basket made it 10-2 in favor of the visitors.
- UK responded with a 12-2 spurt to make it 14-12.
- Utah tied it at 14, but a Johnson 3-pointer gave the Wildcats a lead they never relinquished.
- All totaled, UK’s run was 28-9, featuring 5-of-5 3-pointers by Johnson to shove the Cats ahead 30-19.
- The last Wildcat with five 3s in a half was Wenyen Gabriel vs. Alabama in the SEC Tournament on March 10 of this year. Gabriel was 7 for 7 that game.
- With 15 points from Johnson and 10 from Herro, UK took a 41-27 lead into halftime.
- Key stat in the first was turnovers, as Kentucky forced 10 miscues, including three 30-second violations, and the Cats won points off turnovers 17-4 in the opening period.
In the Second Half
- Kentucky opened the second stanza with the starting lineup.
- UK increased the lead to 19 points at 48-29.
- However, Utah got hot and made eight shots in a row to narrow the gap to 10 at 57-47.
- Kentucky quelled the uprising when Johnson and Washington sparked a 13-0 run to rebuild a comfortable cushion.
- The Wildcats led by as many as 28 points before finishing with an 88-61 win.
- Turnovers were a huge difference-maker today. UK won the turnover battle 18-6 and the Wildcats capitalized with 34 points off turnovers, winning that stat 34-9.
- UK limited Utah to 61 points. UK is 158-7 (.958) under Coach John Calipari when holding the opponent to 63 points or fewer, including 6-0 this season.
- Kentucky blocked five shots today. UK has rejected at least four opponent shots in every game this season.
- UK shot a season-high 58.6 percent from the field today. It is UK’s fourth game of the season over 50 percent.
- Kentucky hit a season-best 57.1 percent from 3-point range, making a season-high 12 out of 21.
- The win marked the 51st consecutive home victory over an unranked Associated Press poll nonconference opponent.
- UK is now 231-39 under John Calipari against unranked competition.
- UK is now 46-12 under Calipari in “bounce back” games after losses.
- Kentucky improved to 241-5 (.980) under Calipari when leading by at least 10 points at any point in the game.
- UK has won 11 in a row at Rupp Arena, dating back to last season.
- Keldon Johnson had a red-hot first half with 15 points and finished with 24, his second-highest total of the season.
- After a previous best of two 3-pointers, he made 6 of 7 from long range today.
- The last Wildcat with six 3-pointers was Wenyen Gabriel, who made seven vs. Alabama on March 10, 2018.
- This is Johnson’s third 20-point game of the season.
- He has scored double figures in all but one game this season.
- Tyler Herro hit for 17 points, one shy of his season high.
- He is averaging 17 per game over the last three home games.
- Reid Travis turned in 16 points today, his fifth straight double-figure game.
- Immanuel Quickley had 12 points, matching his second highest total of the season.
- It is his first double-figure game since North Dakota on Nov. 14.
- Ashton Hagans had two points and a career-high seven assists.
- Playing less than two minutes, Jemarl Baker Jr. scored his first points as a Wildcat by swishing a pair of 3-pointers.
- Calipari is now 283-66 at UK.
- Calipari has a 728-206 all-time on-court record.
- He is now 14 wins away from tying Joe B. Hall for the second-most victories by a UK head coach in program history.